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The New Normal: Setting Up Life in Early Recovery

Written by David Carrigan
Published on October 28, 2018
This article is part of a four-part series recognizing September as National Recovery Month. This month we aim to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance use disorders and celebrate the people who recover.  Each part of the series will explore a different aspect of recovery. 


Leaving residential treatment or making a drastic change in your lifestyle is an incredibly difficult transitional period for people. From medical detoxes to confronting years of unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns through therapy is both physically and emotionally draining. As the time comes to transition back into daily life and routine, the challenge becomes implementing new healthier habits into your life.

However, returning to life after treatment without falling back into old habits can be challenging. To be successful, ease back into the real world in an environment that supports recovery, not hinder it. Just making the decision to initially change took a great deal of effort, and so does creating a new, healthy lifestyle in recovery. Here are some tips and things to consider on how you can structure and begin to live your life following residential treatment or making a substantial change to the way you live.

Live in a New Setting: Make your Environment Work for you Not Against You

Certain environments can be triggering for people for a variety of reasons, especially environments where old unhealthy habits took place. The potential of reengaging in unhealthy relationships is much higher when returning to an old unhealthy environment. It can be easy to fall back into old relationships that supported unhealthy habits. By setting up your life in a new location or with new people, you can start to build healthier sustainable relationships built on a solid foundation. Not all old relationships are bad tho and friends that support your new lifestyle are worth keeping around. One of the silver linings of making a significant and healthy life change is you get to see who your real friends are. If they care about you, they will see your making a change that is right for you and support it.

Build A Recovery and Support Network

Cultivating a network of people in who are supportive of your recovery can be the difference between a change sticking or falling back into old unhealthy habits. This will usually include other people in recovery met in treatment, at a sober house, or at 12 step meetings or related recovery groups. However, one’s recovery network does not have to be limited to people who are in recovery themselves. There are plenty of other avenues in which someone in recovery can connect with people who will be supportive of their healthy and sober lifestyle. Some examples of this can include yoga classes, meditation groups, and gyms. The most important thing is to know you don’t have to navigate your recovery alone.

Continue to Seek Treatment

The work never ends, but it does get easier. Just because someone is no longer using or has chosen to give up an unhealthy habit it doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to relapsing and falling back into destructive behaviors and thought patterns. You should continuously be engaging in things that strengthen your recovery and make the possibility of relapse less likely. This can include individual therapy, engagement in a 12-step group, maintaining a mindfulness practice, and putting in a concerted effort to help those newer in recovery. Also not to be overlooked, is the importance of reaching out for help in difficult times. You never have to bear the burden alone, and it is always ok to rely on your support network

Find Hobbies and Explore New Activites

There’s no doubt that the life of someone in the throws of active substance use or other compulsive behavior, while tumultuous, can be exciting and adrenaline filled. If a person in recovery wishes to be content, they should find hobbies that provide them with a similar sense of fun, excitement, and fulfillment. Being sober or in recovery does not mean life needs to be boring. Find a hobby or activity that excites you and run with it.

Transitional Living

For many, after treatment, it is beneficial to engage in some form of transitional living, like a structured sober house, before returning to independent living. A structured sober house gives someone the opportunity to live and grow in their sobriety. This allows them to live with other people in early recovery, as well as access to staff who will guide them in their recovery journey. Generally, staff will put a schedule in place for residents that include groups and things other things such as meditation and the 12 steps. Most sober houses will also require residents to work or go to school, attend a certain number of support group meetings every week, help with household chores, and assist each other in shopping for and preparing meals. All of this allows residents to build healthy habits, a wealth of recovery resources, and strong bonds with other people in recovery.

Just because a person is in recovery, does not mean that their life should solely focus on recovery-related activities. This is an unreasonable expectation and an easy way to get burnt out. It is important to set goals, determine what you want to accomplish and have a vision of whom you want to be in life. Being stripped of substances and problematic behaviors, which provided you comfort for years, does not mean you have to be relegated to a dull and mundane life. It is often the start of an incredibly joyful and fulfilling chapter for many.

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